Restoration of hidden preserve moves forward

Controlled burn is latest step toward improving little-known Birchwood Hills Nature Area in Port
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The restoration of Port Washington’s Birchwood Hills Nature Area was expected to take a step forward Wednesday when a controlled burn was set to clear about two acres of the property.

The burn will help remove old field grass from the land, which had been farmed for years, and prepare the property for replanting later this spring, said Derek Strohl, a member of the city’s Environmental Planning Committee, which is spearheading the restoration project.

That portion of the 23-acre property will be planted with native grasses and blooming pollinator wildflowers next month, Strohl said — plants that will serve the wildlife that lives in the area.

Some trees will also be planted on the land, he said, but they will be native species.

The work represents the next phase of the restoration project, which the committee began last year when it unveiled its plans for the preserve and then broke up drain tiles on the land.

The tiles were likely installed by a farmer, officials have said, noting the property had been farmed for decades before the city bought it in 1998.

The city had done little with the property since it purchased the land, but that changed last year, when former Ald. Bill Driscoll asked officials to consider selling city-owned land that wasn’t being used.

The Birchwood Hills property came to the committee’s attention as members came to one conclusion: “It’s a really awesome piece of property,” Strohl said at the time. “We discovered this wonderful place that’s tucked away in a corner of the city.”

The land contains wetlands and woodlands, uplands, ponds and streams, Strohl said.

“It’s got it all,” he said.

The city recently did a forestry mowing on a portion of the land to remove woody vegetation and invasive species, city Forester Jon Crain said. Many of those plants were honeysuckle.

The city saved some of the hawthorne trees and service berries in the area, he said, and it left some of the dead and dying ash trees that don’t pose a hazard. These trees will provide habitat for wildlife, he said.

Crain noted that the city has laid out a trail system for the property, and hopes to begin creating the wood-chipped walkways later this year.

“It’s easily walkable right now,” he said. 

In April, the city and seventh-graders from Thomas Jefferson Middle School will plant about 500 seedlings in the areas where the mowing was done, Crain said.

Protectors will be installed to help keep the saplings from the deer and rabbits that would otherwise dine on them, he said.

“We don’t want to make a big salad for them,” he said.

The city will be replacing the current mix of trees — primarily birch and ash — with 15 species, Strohl said.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said, noting they include hardwoods, conifers and shrubs.

Grants will cover this cost, as well as the cost of installing a bridge across a creek on the west side of the property, he said.

The bridge, along with a trailhead and bike rack, will help mark the entrance to the nature preserve off Parkway Drive, he said.

The city is also working on plans for signage in the area, Crain said.

It will take some time for the restoration to be completed, Crain said.

“This is going to be an ongoing project for a while,” he said, noting that after the city gets things started, “then our goal is to let nature take its course.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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